Council moves forward with sale of park land

A divided Charlottesville City Council will take a final vote Monday on selling a small piece of city-owned land south of Meadow Creek.

At a recent meeting, a majority of the council supported selling the land for construction of a single-family residence, while others sought to preserve it as park land.

The city’s parks and recreation department originally purchased the lot at 1279 Kenwood Lane for $160,000 for trail access and flood plain protection. City staff has determined that about one-third of an acre is not needed for that purpose and could be sold.

The city put out a request for proposals for anyone who might want to build on the lot. The estimated market value of the property is between $85,000 and $100,000.

“As a result of our efforts, the city received six proposals,” said Kathy McHugh, the city’s housing development specialist.

The proposals ranged from a bid of $101,850 from a couple seeking to build a private residence to an offer from the Piedmont Housing Alliance to swap the land for some of its property on Meadow Street.

“My wife and I are the ones who put in the proposal that Neighborhood Development Services has recommended,” said Hugh Scott. “I would like to purchase the land to build a house.”

Regardless of the eventual owner, there will be a 10-foot-wide easement allowing for access to the new 65-acre Meadow Creek Stream Valley Park from Kenwood Lane.

One Greenbrier homeowner pleaded with councilors to reject all proposals and keep the land undeveloped and part of the park system.

“We’ve had so many changes just since I purchased my home five or six years ago,” said Sharon Clark. She cited a 40-foot-wide swath of trees clear-cut for the Meadow Creek sewer replacement and nearby construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway.

Councilor Dede Smith sided with Clark and said she thinks the land is too hilly to develop.

“It’s a perfect site for green infrastructure,” Smith said. “It’s just nicely sited as a public space for this absolutely phenomenal park.”

Smith suggested the land be reserved for bird-watching, a pastime that attracts many tourists.

Councilor Kathy Galvin supported a proposal from Habitat for Humanity to receive the land for a $10 payment in exchange for restricting the house to a low-income family.                

“We’ve been having a very difficult time actually building affordable housing, especially on the north side of town,” Galvin said. “Our Comprehensive Plan very strongly emphasizes striving towards mixed-income communities.”

Smith said she was opposed to accepting Habitat’s proposal.

“That’s a $100,000 subsidy for one house, and that’s so outside the range of where our baseline has been,” Smith said.

Councilor Kristin Szakos supported staff’s recommendation to sell to Scott, the highest bidder, because the $100,000 in revenue could be applied to the Charlottesville Housing Fund.

At the recent meeting, a motion to retain the land rather than sell it failed on a 2-3 vote, with Councilor Dave Norris siding with Smith. A motion to sell the land passed on first reading and will return for a second reading Monday.

One issue to be resolved is how the proceeds will be divided between future park land acquisition and the housing fund.